For me, hepatitis C was a call to action. Hepatitis C reminded me that I could either surrender to illness or pursue happiness and health. Cultivating happiness is like taking a daily vitamin – it is cheap insurance. I can’t prove that it helps me, but it sure does feel good.
Most of us probably buy the notion that happiness is good for our health. The problem is that happiness is not something you can just turn on or off. Even worse, if you want to be happy but you aren’t, life can feel extra miserable.
If you don’t feel happy, what can you do? First, don’t beat yourself up for not feeling content. Your attitude is a tool to help you, and never to be used against you. The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Extend this compassion to yourself. If you are on hepatitis C treatment, it may feel nearly impossible to be happy, but you can be gentle with yourself.
Next, be sure your lack of happiness is related to your attitude and not a psychiatric illness. Mental illness is a medical problem needing professional help. Willpower is a powerful ally, but it doesn’t cure mental illness.
A simple way to improve a sour mood is to “act as if.” Deciding or pretending to be happy can actually improve your mood. Try acting like a contented person and you may be surprised by the results. Focus on joy rather than hepatitis C.
Another tactic is to stop and smell the cinnamon. (I think it smells better than roses.) Happy people make time to savor moments. In fact, if you aren’t happy, try this: If the weather is nice, go outside and look around you. Spend one to ten minutes paying attention to clouds, rocks, a tree, a puddle, or anything that appeals to you. Don’t think—just be. If weather keeps you inside, look out a window or at the rain on the glass.
Practice smiling. Oddly enough, faking a smile or laugh can open the door to joy. Buddhist monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests a simple mindfulness practice—breathe three times while smiling. This practice is a lovely way to start the day. “There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way,” said Hạnh.
Perk up by moving the body. The problem with this strategy is that in order to implement it, you need to overcome inertia. However if you can coax yourself to take a mere five minute walk, the results can be amazing.
Counting your blessings is a rapid attitude-changer. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.” I keep a notebook by my bed and write a gratitude list before turning off the light. It paves the way to better dreams.
Take a page from Mark Twain. This American humorist battled despair and depression following the death of his daughter, wife, and other loved ones. “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up,” wrote Twain. Call someone who is having a hard time. Send an encouraging note or email. Volunteer your time, pick up litter around your neighborhood, or practice random acts of kindness.
My favorite mood adjuster is humor. Norman Cousins, who used humor to heal two life-threatening illnesses, called laughter, “inner jogging.” Unlike the other kind of jogging, laughter doesn’t require special shoes, good weather, or willpower. In fact, unless your jaw is wired, there is no excuse not to pursue humor.
If you are rolling your eyes at these suggestions, consider this—research shows us that happy people live 4 to 10 years longer, and in better health[i]. I am not suggesting trying something that might make you feel temporarily uncomfortable, such as going on a diet or running a marathon might. Instead, I am proposing the pursuit of pleasure, a gift that will be felt by both heart and liver.
(Blog excerpt adapted from The Happy Hepper FEB 2013 – To read entire piece, visit the HCV Advocate)
[i] Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity Ed Diener and Micaela Y. Chan Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being March 2011 Volume 3, Issue 1, pages 1–43 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x/full